While most photographers know about the Golden Hour, there’s another time of day that’s equally incredible but less familiar: the Blue Hour.
As its name implies, the Blue Hour is a special time when the sky has a vivid blue/purple hue. The natural lighting is dim enough to bring out the darkness, yet light enough to avoid using flash. This fantastic overcast lighting gives you deep saturated colors and a lovely surreal atmosphere.
Also known as twilight, the Blue Hour happens every day just before sunrise and just after sunset. It’s like an extra reward for photographers who stay later or arrive early for the Golden Hour.
Unlike the Golden Hour, though, the Blue Hour is typically much shorter than one hour. In some places, it’s over within 15 minutes–or barely happens at all. The only places with a long Blue Hour are near the polar caps, like Northern Russia or Canada, where the sun stays low through the winter. (But then, you have freezing cold weather…)
With such a short window of opportunity, you absolutely need to be prepared to shoot as soon as the Blue Hour begins. If you waste time adjusting your camera or finding a perfect scene to shoot, you’ll risk missing the Blue Hour entirely.
Depending on your location, you might be able to combine the Blue Hour with the Golden Hour for one long shoot. This combination would allow you to photograph a scene or person under a wide range of lighting, from warm gold to dark blue.
However, not all locations are ideal for both Blue Hour and Golden Hour. Some places work great for one, but are dull for the other. If you want to shoot both in one go, make sure you’re at a location that’s beautiful in all kinds of lighting.
For example, if you’re photographing in a dense forest during the Golden Hour, you’ll have beautiful sun flares and rims around the trees. Once the sun sets, though, the forest will become dark quickly. You might still get a striking Blue Hour shot, but it’ll be harder.
Similarly, a busy road might look uninteresting during the Golden Hour, yet suddenly light up during the Blue Hour. The shining car headlights and bright traffic signals can turn an unremarkable scene into a place worth visiting.
Generally, the best Blue Hour shots have sources of artificial light, such as street lamps or city lights. This warm light contrasts the dark blue, giving your photos a wider range of color. Without this light, your images could end up looking too blue or colorless.
The final glow of the sunset or the first rays of sunrise can also add color to your photos. To get the most out of this faint light, try to shoot somewhere with water. Then, the sunlight will reflect on the water, giving you twice as much color. This strategy works especially well with large bodies of water, such as the ocean or a big lake.
If you want to shoot a landscape without artificial light or water, aim for someplace high, like a hill or mountain. You’ll get more light and color from this high vantage point than from below, where the sun vanishes quickly.
Finally, if all else fails, plan a Blue Hour shoot when the moon is full. It’ll both provide light and give you something amazing to photograph.
Blue Hour Photography
For inspiration and examples of the above suggestions, check out these incredible images from the photographers in our Flickr community. Then, get out and shoot your own Blue Moon photos!